17 October 2016

Matthew 14:1-12

“At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead…” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 33


As we continue through the Gospel of Matthew's account of Jesus' life we hear how word of Jesus' actions has reached Herod. We must be careful not to muddle this Herod up with the one who appeared in the Christmas story.

Herod the Great had been ruler of Judea at the time of Jesus' birth and was the one visited by the wise men. However, as he approached death he decided, with the blessing of Rome, to divide his kingdom into three, giving a portion to three of his sons. This was known as the tetrarchy. Herod Antipas, who appears in today's narrative, was given the areas of Galilee and Perea (modern-day northern Israel and parts of Jordan and Syria).

John the Baptist's arrest wasn't only recorded in the Bible. A first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, also included it in his history. However, the reason he gave for John's arrest was Herod's jealousy at how popular John was becoming. Maybe this was also mixed with fear. Herod's job was to keep the peace, and his Roman masters may not have looked favourably upon a new popular movement growing.

Matthew points to John's preaching as the cause for his arrest. Herod and his family styled themselves as Jewish leaders, so John condemned him for breaking Jewish law by marrying his brother's wife (verse 4). Telling the truth to a despot is a risky business.

Why did Herod confuse Jesus with John? Maybe the supernatural powers that Jesus seemed to possess suggested to Herod someone who had come back from the dead, someone out of the ordinary (verse 2). Josephus wondered whether there was some family likeness shared between John and Jesus. We don't know precisely the relationship between their mothers, but some similarity is possible.

Interesting though this account of John the Baptist's murder is, it serves another purpose. Just as John came to prepare the way for Jesus' coming, so he points the way that Jesus must continue. Luke records that Jesus, after his arrest, was sent by Pilate to stand trial before Herod (Luke 23:6-12). Like John, Jesus brought a message of truth which led down a path to execution.

To Ponder

  • Over what issues do you think  the Church should be challenging those in authority?
  • In a country where people shouldn't be put to death for their faith, how else might Christians suffer for what they believe? And how might we support those who do suffer?

Bible notes author

The Revd Will Fletcher

Will is a presbyter stationed in the Sheffield Circuit. He has oversight of one multisite church (The Beacon Methodist Church) which is spread over three locations in western Sheffield.